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Neumann are well known for their high-end microphones.
The Neumann TLM67 aims to give you the warmth and clarity of the legendary U67 without a transformer, and at a much lower price.
But how does it stack up? We put both mics to the test.
Neumann’s U67, the tube microphone that defined the sound of the 60’s, reissued in spectacular fashion in 2018. A gorgeous recreation meticulously reproduced to original specifications, the U67 provides engineers with a zero-compromise large-diaphragm microphone that is extraordinarily versatile and unmatched in sound quality.
The Neumann TLM (“transformer-less microphone”) alternative, the TLM67, provides younger engineers & new producers access to these definitive sounds at a much more reasonable price.
The question is, how do these microphones compare to each other? Does the TLM67’s tube-less & transformer-less design affect its versatility, or can the lower-cost microphone stand up to its older, more expensive relative?
U67 vs TLM67: Who Wins?
Despite the valiant efforts of the TLM67, the U67 found its way to the top of most shootout scenarios. The often-flattering proximity effect of the U67 contributes greatly to the already warm, full-bodied sound of the microphone. Transients feel smooth and punchy, regardless of the source – without ever feeling overly aggressive or severely sibilant.
In comparison, the TLM67 feels tight and rich, but never as “deep” and three-dimensional as the original or reissue. Considering the price difference, the microphone is still incredibly versatile and provides access to the classic ’67 sound for a fraction of the cost.
Introduced in the mid-’60s, Neumann’s U67 was designed as a successor of the legendary U47. Built with a strong regard for new “modern” American recording techniques (close-miking, multi-pattern microphones etc.), Neumann set out to establish a higher standard for studio microphones.
Neumann’s innovation led to the development of the large-diaphragm K67 capsule. Using a pre-emphasis/de-emphasis circuit not dissimilar to tape technology, the K67 capsule was designed with a large high-frequency boost – effectively masking the noise floor of the microphone’s tube power supply, whilst also providing a remarkably linear frequency response.
Equipped with three switchable polar patterns (omni, cardioid, and figure-8), a low-cut filter and pad – well-ahead of its time – the U67 quickly found itself in the hands of the world’s production elite.
“Honestly: If I could only use one microphone – just one mic – it would be a Neumann U 67. It’s the most versatile mic.” – Al Schmitt.
Fast-forward 50 years; Neumann’s stunning reissue offers an authentic replica of the original 60’s design. Using identical components, including the renowned BV12 output transformer and EF86 pentode tube (wired as a triode in the U67), Neumann were are able to present a practically-identical copy of the original microphone.
Opening the elegant dark-grey tweed case, the microphone is presented as an identical replica of the original; with the old Z48 mount, 7-pin cable, and multi-pin PSU. The updated power supply has been redesigned to meet today’s strict safety requirements and to accommodate for the slightly-higher filament current of newer premium grade tubes. The PSU is compatible with older U67 microphones and can handle long-life EF806 and original EF86 tubes.
The Neumann U67 Collectors Edition retails for approximately USD$7,000 (approx. GPB £5,000).
The TLM67: A Modern Alternative
Neumann’s magical transistor-based adaptation of the U67 has become a popular lower-priced alternative to the prized tube microphone. Replacing the traditional tube power supply and transformer-driven output stage with a no-nonsense FET circuit, the Neumann TLM67 delivers the convenience of modern phantom-powered condenser technology without the “coldness” that is commonly associated with transformer-less microphones.
Aside from its striking pearl-grey finish, the TLM60’s dimensions and silhouette are identical to the U67. The same polar pattern selections (omni, cardioid and figure-8), low-cut filter and pad can be found on the Neumann TLM. A standard XLR connector is found as a substitute for the U67’s 7-pin cable.
As with the U67, the TLM variant features the same bright K67 capsule, with a similar compensation circuit that is deliberately designed to offset the higher frequencies and saturate in a similar way to its older relative. Despite this, the TLM still manages to have a mostly-linear frequency response.
The Neumann TLM67 retails for approximately USD$2,500 (approx. GPB £1,900).
U67 vs TLM67: Vintage Tubes & Transformers vs Modern FET Technology
The following observations were made over a 12-month period whilst working at Kiln Studios in Sydney, Australia. The pair of Neumann microphones were rigorously tested in various configurations, often recorded through Neve & API preamps in typical working conditions.
These thoughts are not meant to be interpreted as clinical laboratory comparison of the two microphones. Instead, this comparison is based on my experience in the industry and my knowledge of real-world recording scenarios.
Our pair of 67’s have been subjected to a wild variety of male vocal tones over the last twelve months; from drill rap to thrash metal, pop, folk, musical theatre, and everything in between!
In most cases, the microphones were used in extremely close-proximity scenarios, encouraging the singer to take advantage of the added “weight” and punch in the microphone’s low-end.
Uncompressed, both microphones performed extremely well. I noticed a brilliant, silky top-end and unbelievably clear mids. The nuanced differences presented themselves further down the signal chain.
Once compressed, the U67 had a noticeable edge over the TLM variant. The tube U67 paired beautifully with our UA1176 & TubeTech CL1B compressors – emphasizing the rich lower-mid frequencies without aggressively altering the smooth transient response. In comparison, the TLM felt strained in the upper-mid frequency range, even when using milder compression settings.
Despite the microphone’s natural dip at 5kHz, I found myself de-essing the TLM67 more aggressively, and over a wider bandwidth, to tame the hissing formants introduced by overly-sibilant vocal passages.
Similar characteristics were experienced when recording female vocals. Lower, diaphragmatic alto voices and high-intensity pop sopranos naturally gravitated towards the depth and sheen of the U67, with an unmatched openness in the upper-mid frequency range of the voice.
The TLM67 shined when recording delicate, whispy folk and acoustic pop. Lacking the “cloudiness” introduced by the tube/transformer combination, the TLM microphone allowed the upper-mid frequencies of the voice to breathe, resulting in a more articulate vocal performance.
In comparison, the U67 often sounded nasal on those same voice types – something that could easily be addressed with simple EQ, but worth noting nonetheless.
Recording solo acoustic guitar, the U67 consistently provided a rich representation of the instrument – clear overtones and full-bodied low-frequencies without sounding “flubby” or inarticulate. The omnidirectional pattern was particularly complimentary for tighter instruments (parlor acoustics, gypsy-jazz guitars and mandolins) where a closer microphone placement is required without an overly-aggressive low-frequency boost. The U67 also behaved wonderfully as the “mid” component of an M-S configuration.
The TLM67 proved useful when recording acoustic guitar parts for dense, full-band arrangements. The fast transient response (typical of the FET configuration) and linear low-frequencies allowed the acoustic guitar to find space in the mix without fighting with the lower-midrange of the drum, bass, piano and vocal components.
The U67’s ability to capture the sound of an amplifier in a room is unparalleled. Regardless of placement, distance, and amplifier settings, the TLM67 comparatively lacked the nuanced luster found in its transformer-driven counterpart. In most cases, no additional EQ or compression was required for the U67 (other than what was configured by the guitar, pedalboard, and amplifier).
Other Instruments (percussion, strings, brass, rooms etc).
Across the board, similar trends were experienced when recording other instrument groups. Both microphones sound undeniably exceptional; the U67 is full-bodied, rich, and deep, with the TLM 67 sounding marginally cleaner and more present.
Generally, the U67 was better for capturing the “authenticity” of a sound, and handled the subtle changes in room acoustics well (particularly for jazz, folk & classical). The TLM 67 feels slightly processed in comparison – the lack of tube/transformer “warmth” becomes apparent when recording instruments without an abundance of low-frequency energy. Both microphones have their uses and actually pair quite well together (particularly combined in an M-S configuration).
In high SPL scenarios (brass instruments, guitar amplifiers), the Neumann TLM 67 has a preferential edge over its tube counterpart, and transients feel slightly more defined. This may or may not be desirable, and is entirely dependant on the role of that particular instrument in the total arrangement.
Phenomenal music can be made on a budget. With the technology available to us today, there’s no denying that claim.
However, as a studio owner & full-time producer, we’re constantly striving to push the boundaries of what is sonically possible within an acoustic space. The small advantages gained by using high-end equipment pays considerable dividends in the long term. Knowing you have a solid and reliable microphone that sounds immaculate is very reassuring, and it’s hard to put a price on this.
Ultimately, the TLM67 is an excellent microphone with an incredibly versatile tonal palette and a fine addition to any microphone collection.
However, the U67 possesses a richness and depth that very few other large-diaphragm microphones have achieved to-date (think U47, Telefunken ELAM251, and Sony C800G territory). The cost and prestige associated with the U67 is entirely justified. This gorgeous microphone, in its tube & transformer-driven glory, has a certain flattering quality that the cheaper TLM version simply cannot match.
It seems the U67 reinforces the age-old philosophy – you get what you pay for!